Marketing continues to find innovative ways to generate fresh ideas—from disruptive technology to the latest brand techniques, marketing has the ability to push the envelope from boring and passé to vibrant and cutting-edge. The way in which marketing evolves stems from cultural shifts and the ability to keep pace with what is important to different audiences. When you turn on the news, check social media or talk to your colleagues and friends, you’ll notice today’s conversations are very different from where they were two short years ago. While marketers have become more adept at listening and catering to popular demand, there are two distinct areas of cultural shift that have been trickier to navigate—diversity and inclusion.
Two Sides of the Same Coin?
The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are often used together, but they are not the same. Diversity involves the portrayal of a different type of people to a company or organization. The difference could be race, gender, ethnicity or culture, and it has become vitally important when interacting within the global marketplace. Inclusion is deriving the uniqueness of a diverse group for the benefit of learning from one another. In the following, I’ll highlight a few do’s and don’ts for your company to consider before tackling this venture.
DO come prepared. Research the demographic to which you intend to market. Find out what’s important to them not only from a consumer level, but also what’s important to their communities and social circles. In your efforts to come prepared with knowledge and information, you should also prepare to be uncomfortable. Learning to understand ethnicities and cultures that are different from your own is difficult to navigate in everyday life let alone in your marketing. The goal is to become an ally; show that your company understands the needs of the client from a consumer and personal level. The days of selling blindly are over. Consumers want to feel seen and heard.
DON’T exclude people who think differently. Thinking outside the box shouldn’t be overused jargon but an authentic way to communicate. We may naturally be attracted to those who think like us, but doing so can lead to an overgeneralization that everyone thinks the same. This is prevalent in marketing. Beer commercials are saturated with men in beards and flannel shirts or button downs. Light beer commercials feature women on a beach or in a bar after a hard day at work, celebrating with their girlfriends. Beer enterprise Heineken recently shattered those stereotypes with this ad spot:
Companies are successfully navigating diversity marketing to reach into new demographic markets. For example, motorcycle business Harley Davidson recently started marketing to women by creating a “New Rider Course” to teach women to ride as well as selling women’s apparel. Fast food enterprise McDonald’s does extensive market research on ethnic perspectives to gain insights into how mainstream communication impacts certain communities. They are also active in the communities they target by providing scholarships and a catered web experience.
DO incorporate a variety of human elements that not only make us unique, but show resilience, empathy and character. This has worked brilliantly for companies that believe those elements further drive what they’re marketing. The most recent example is an ad campaign run by athletic apparel giant Nike when it not only tied in those elements to further illuminate its famous Just Do It slogan, but exhibited its cultural awareness by including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick stood out primarily because he is a famous former athlete, but most notably because he is an infamous social advocate.
Nike followed up their marketing efforts with print and digital pieces featuring Kaepernick’s face brandished with soundbite text from the commercial: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike’s stocks subsequently reached a notable surge by mid-September, weeks after this ad campaign was run.
DON’T appear tone deaf for the sake of being part of the conversation. Having an ear to the cultural and figurative streets can garner serious social backlash when generated with little thought or regard to the group you may have intended to spotlight. This was painfully evident when soft drink powerhouse Pepsi featured fashion model and Kardashian sister Kendall Jenner – known for her wealth and privilege – as the face of social protest in their commercial feature last year. Viewers were left wondering how Pepsi could have missed the mark so obtusely when opulence and injustice are never two words mentioned in the same sentence, let alone believable as a visual statement. Was there anyone of a cultural or ethnic background on their staff that could have told them this was a bad idea?
After facing a blaze of public scrutiny and outrage, the ad was pulled in less than 24 hours and both Pepsi and Jenner issued apologies. While Pepsi may have learned a painful lesson from this exercise, Jenner met headlines and outrage, once again, sporting what appeared to be an afro for an upcoming issue of Vogue magazine.
Inclusion can and should be an effective marketing tool when utilized correctly, but companies should be tasked with approaching it, and any subsequent controversy or backlash, wisely.
Be The Change
Are you looking to market to more women? How many women are working within your organization? How many are on your marketing team? Do you want to reach a more ethnically diverse group? How many African-Americans, Muslims, Latinx or Asians are on staff? Are they part of your marketing conversations? What feedback could they offer that you may not have thought about? What are some marketing controversies they could help you avoid?
Change typically starts within an organization before it can market effectively. There is no quick-fix or single solution to incorporating diversity and inclusivity in marketing. If your business is truly interested, it will need to be prepared for a continuous, everyday commitment to becoming self-aware, and vigilant in banishing rhetoric for the sake of relevancy.